In vivo induction of apoptosis in immature thymocytes by staphylococcal enterotoxin B

Y. S. Lin, H. Y. Lei, T. L.K. Low, C. L. Shen, L. J. Chou, M. S. Jan

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Staphylococcal enterotoxins are potent T cell mitogens. Recent studies have shown that the binding of these toxins to class II MHC molecules on accessory cells is essential for the stimulation of T cells which bear specific Vβ segment of TCR. In the present study we show that i.v. administration of staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) results in an enlargement of spleen and lymph nodes but causes thymus atrophy. Elimination of CD4+CD8+ cells predominantly accounted for the shrinkage of thymus, and the lowest level of this cell population was reached 4 days after SEB injection. Furthermore, this decrease in CD4+CD8+ cells was accompanied by a relative increase in the percentages of CD4+CD8-, CD4-CD8+ and CD4- CD8- cells, whereas their absolute numbers actually reduced on day 4. The thymus shrinkage involved apoptosis which was characterized by DNA fragmentation and morphologic changes. The depletion of Thy-1(high), TCR- αβ(low) and TCR-αβ(intermediate) cells also occurred with a kinetic correlated to the reduction of CD4+CD8+ cells. Our results further showed that the percentages of Vβ8+ cells reduced 12 h post SEB injection, increased after 2 days, and decreased again thereafter. SEB thus causes both apoptotic and stimulative effects in the thymus. Apparently, the tremendous loss of double-positive cells (>90% in cell number on day 4) is not simply due to the reduction of Vβ8+ cells, the possible modulatory effect of other factors or hormones which may play a role in the cell death is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1156-1163
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1992 Jan 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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